Sunday, April 20, 2014

Divergent

This is a spoiler-free review.

In this post-apocalyptic world, there is a large community living in the ruined city of Chicago protected by a huge wall. The people there are divided into factions to keep things equal and organized. They are typed either Abnegation (the selfless) Erudite (the intelligent) Dauntless (the brave) Amity (the peaceful) or Candor (the honest). Teens, at a certain (read: unclear) point in their life take a test to see which they are, and then are allowed to choose any of the five to spend the rest of their life in. Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) was born into Abnegation, but always had a difficult time being selfless. On the day of the test she's afraid she won't test into Abnegation, but she's also afraid she will. Both her fears come true -- turns out she's selfless, and intelligent, and brave. They call it being "divergent" and in this community, it's not exactly something to be proud of.

Our heroine.

I liked this movie more than I thought I would -- in spite of a few things, and because of a few things I didn't really expect, and occasionally both those things are the same things. Like the plot -- it's halfway unique and halfway silly. And after the setup described above, it's small, episodic, and focused on Beatrice (or Tris) for quite a while as she struggles to fit into the fraction of her choice, before moving on to the big stakes. Not very much happens during that time that struck me as being very important, but at the same time I enjoyed those parts most because they were the most infused with character development -- something I didn't expect a lot of, and was therefore rather impressed with.

Tris and her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) at the reap-- I mean... the choosing ceremony?

I promise, I'm trying my best not to compare this film with... you know... that one movie that everyone compares it to... but I want to now, just to say that they're not really that comparable, especially in the case of the heroine. I know Shailene Woodley is a much respected up-and-coming actress (or perhaps now she's already up-and-came?) but hearing everyone say "this in the next..." -- you know -- I practically expected Tris to only be played by Woodley because Jennifer Lawrence wouldn't do it. But Lawrence as -- you know -- is very different from Woodley's Tris, who is peppy, and warm, and her charisma is friendly and inviting, and she draws our attention easily with her openness, sweet voice and those large, multicolored eyes. Since I've yet to read the book, I can't say (yet) that she's perfect, but I have a feeling, and see no flaws.

At any rate, with anyone less capable, this film would be a dismal little failure, as she carries the film very well, and almost entirely alone. There is a very large supporting cast, but none of the characters quite reach the heights of the leading lady. Theo James probably carries the next greatest amount, as the mysterious and devastatingly handsome Four (I assume that's how he's described in the book) but I wasn't too impressed with either acting or characterization. The mainly impressive thing involving him is how long it took his and Tris' relationship to turn romantic. Seriously -- it was better than you'd think.

Still, anyone could see it coming a mile away. But guess that's not the point.

I don't have much to say about the rest of the cast. None of them were bad or anything, really they were mostly just underwhelming, and the bigger the actors name the more underwhelming the impact. So smallest impact; Kate Winslet, then Ashley Judd, Maggie Q (actually, she was cool) and Tris' group of friends. But remember there's more overall character development than in your average teen movie, so they do all have their moments. Biggest name and biggest impact of supporting characters has to be Peter, mostly because I just saw Miles Teller in the Footloose remake (which he stole) and have been wanting to see him and Woodley in The Spectacular Now, so I paid more attention to him -- but then he did maintain it with a bold and interesting character, and, maybe a little bit stole some scenes. Or all of them. One of those.

This being the best still I could find of him is good proof that he wasn't supposed to make quite so much an impression (directly above Christina there (Zoe Kravitz)).

A number of things about this movie teetered on the edge of Quality, threatening to fall over into the pit of Teenage Ridiculousness, but ultimately only one aspect fell -- or rather it took a running leap -- the use of sappy modern pop music; what was up with that? When the soundtrack wasn't singing it was fine. You know how I know that? Because I never even noticed it. But every time some auto-tuned female would start crooning out "feels" I became severely distracted, and then would glance around, suspicious that someone was judging me, either for not feeling the feels or for not being twelve. Then it would end, and I would return to perfect comfort, enjoying Woodley's performance, and searching faces to see if Peter is in this scene.

As for themes, I'm not really sure what it was trying to say besides the obvious, "don't let anyone put you in a box," and the Disney-patented-classic "be yourself" but I believe that it believed that it was profound. Another reason to read that book.

After much hemming and hawing, I finally decided to go see Divergent without having first read the book. I was hoping (and also fearing) that seeing the film would make a fan out of me, but I am barely less indifferent to this franchise now than I was three days ago; still curious to read the first novel, still unsure if I'll do anything more. But I enjoyed the movie for itself, in spite of its occasional diversions into typical teenage romance and drama; in spite of its not being very thought-provoking, like -- you know -- (okay fine; The Hunger Games. There, I said it.) And because of more than I expected -- like it actually doesn't steal so much from the teenage fiction playbook as to make me ashamed to say I liked it. And the acting that ranged from better-than-necessary to great, and the story and story-telling was simple, fun, involving, and even pretty exciting. Divergent falls only barely short of living up to its name.

9 comments:

  1. I'm mostly indifferent to the Divergent series. I liked the first book, even though I could see its flaws, because I found it exciting and action-packed. Unfortunately the sequels bored me to tears. I still wanted to see this movie though and I'm glad I did. This movie was really faithful to the book. It's about as faithful to the book as the Hunger Games movie was to its book.

    At the showing I saw all of the teens in the audience seemed to absolutely looove this movie. I heard quite a few "That was AMAZING!" comments as I left :) I love seeing movies with teenagers. They're so enthusiastic/crazy that they crack me up! :D

    I definitely wouldn't go this movie amazing but I definitely enjoyed it and from what I've heard it's one of the better YA book to movie adaptations. I thought Shailene Woodley was excellent and I completely agree with you: if she hadn't been as good as she was this movie would have been a complete disaster. I'm really looking forward to seeing her and Ansel Elgort in The Fault in Our Stars :)

    The supporting characters aren't very well-developed at all in the book but I thought the actors in this movie were really good and that they did the best they could with the material they were given. I was most looking forward to seeing Kate Winslet but in the end I most enjoyed Ashley Judd's performance. I thought she gave a really touching performance and that she brought a lot of heart to the movie. I was really surprised at how moved I was by her final scene with Shailene Woodley.

    I really enjoyed your review as I always do. You write really, really well :)

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    1. "I definitely wouldn't CALL this movie amazing". I noticed a typo.

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    2. Ha, I didn't even notice the typo. I knew exactly what you meant! :D

      Yeah, there's just nothing about it really worth feeling passionate over, either positively or negatively! Still, I feel more positively about it than negative -- just very dispassionately. ;) It gave me a sense of it being a pretty faithful adaptation. Good for them!

      Haha, that's cute. I'm glad the fans love it so much. As far as YA fiction goes, I'm sure this is one of the better things to be obsessed over.

      Woodley is a fantastic actress. (I say with complete confidence even though I've only seen her in one movie...) Hehe, they played The Fault in Out Stars trailer before the showing, and I poked my sister and told her "that's the girl we're going to be watching for the next two hours" but I didn't realize HE was in the movie too until after I got home!

      Aw, that's too bad, I was hoping I'd get a nice, deeper insight into everyone by reading the book. So maybe reading the book will just make me more appreciative of the supporting performances instead. I thought that final scene you mentioned was surprisingly moving too, but I credited it more to Woodley than Judd -- though I suppose they'd both have to give good performances in order for it to work. I was probably a little transfixed with Woodley, cause she really impressed me.

      Thanks so much Hannah! I really appreciate it! :D

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  2. I am so indifferent about watching Divergent. If I happen to rent it one day I would watch it, but I don't even feel the need to take the time and rent it. It is strange, but I have an odd sense of not caring either way. Maybe that's because it is somewhat popular on the internet, but no where close to the Hunger Games. Plus, I think my friend kind of hates the books because they ripped off the Hunger Games.

    Well, that was a very indifferent comment. :P Hopefully I made sense!

    -James

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    1. Yeah, I totally understand how you feel, and it's probably not something you'd enjoy very much anyway. The Hunger Games is so much more worth your time. It actually seemed less ripped-off of THG than I expected though, but that's just the movie, and I can see it still being true for the book.

      Haha, yes, you made perfect, indifferent sense! :P

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  3. I attempted to leave a comment earlier but it didn't go through, I apologize if my previous one shows up....

    I think that the soundtrack was definitely the most distracting part of this film. I even like some of the pop songs for it but woah was the placement ever off in some scenes! Second major distraction was that appeared the no one on the entire set (MUAs, actors, production, greens, catering, ie) had ANY chapstick. If you watch again, just look at the chappity chap chapness of everyone. ugh gross. Even on the 'devestatingly handsome Four'. so sad. But while we are picking on the makeup crew, let's also address how they missed the part where Abnegation doesn't even look in a mirror so tell me how she's wearing a thick line of brown liner and mascara...I'm good but even I need a mirror.
    I was impressed with Zoe Kravitz and look forward to seeing more of her. Miles Teller though....love. I enjoyed The Spectacular Now, it was raw and really good. I will have to watch again to prepare for your review. :)

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    1. Yeah, those songs just didn't fit there, and they jolted me right out of the movie. It was really amazing how perfectly placed they were to make the worst impression! But I don't think I noticed the lack of chapstick. Haha, I'll have to remember to notice it when I see it with the rest of my family. I did notice Tris' very neatly applied eye makeup though. :D You would even think that since they shun vanity so harshly as to not even look in mirrors that they wouldn't wear makeup at all... but anyway, that's the sort of overlooking mistake I was expecting. Yeah, I'm just as interested to see what happens with the characters like Kravitz's and Teller's as I am with Woodley's. She's good, but the character is predictable -- they're also good, and the characters are less predictable! Thanks for the comment Michelle! Better not expect a Spectacular Now review too soon though -- it'll probably take me a while to actually see it. :)

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  4. Better than The Twilight Saga but never as good as The Hunger Games, instead, more of a replicate of that wonderful franchise. Good review Sarah.

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    1. Totally, although there's such a wide gap between Twilight and The Hunger Games that it's pretty easy to land there. ;) It is trying it's best to be "the next Hunger Games though. You'd think it'd try to be Divergent instead! Thanks Dan!

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